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NM delegation: President needs to be held accountable

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are calling for a thorough investigation after reading the more than 400-page Mueller report into whether Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential campaign.

But two of the members, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, both Democrats, differ on proposals by Democratic presidential candidates that impeachment of President Donald Trump should be part of the process. Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are among the candidates who have called for impeachment proceedings.

Luján appears to be more open to impeachment, telling the Journal it should be considered as an option, “but only after we follow the path set out by Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi.”

“We need to finish the investigation, and then present the facts to the American people,” Luján said.

Heinrich was more cautious.

“I don’t want people to see impeachment as a short-circuit option to get to a desired outcome,” he said. “But I think there needs to be a thorough investigation by Congress into whether the president attempted to interfere with the Department of Justice.”

If that turned out to be the case, Heinrich said, “There should be consequences for the president.”

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said talk of impeachment works well with some segments of the country.

“And that is the kind of talk they want to hear from their representatives,” Atkeson said. “But what do you do when you get outside of that segment? What do you have to gain?”

She said making the case for impeachment would especially be difficult in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

‘Serious misconduct’

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., didn’t address the impeachment issue, but said the Mueller report found “serious misconduct” by the president.

“First, and unequivocally, a foreign adversary meddled in our presidential election for the express purpose of benefiting the Trump campaign – a fact the president still refuses to acknowledge – and the report details links between the president’s campaign and that foreign adversary,” Udall said. “Multiple senior members of the president’s campaign have pled guilty.”

While the Mueller report found that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, it did not find the Trump administration colluded with the Russian government. The report, however, did not exonerate Trump from allegations that he obstructed justice during the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“It was incredibly disappointing to see in enormous detail that the president seemed to attempt to thwart the investigation,” said Heinrich, who gave the Democratic address over the weekend about the report.

The senator told the Journal that he was disturbed by “the unpresidential actions” by Trump described in the report.

‘A lot of questions’

“The report raises a lot of questions,” Luján said. “The main issues I have with it concern obstruction. … An unredacted report needs to be presented to Congress.”

The 3rd Congressional District representative voiced frustration that the Trump administration has given indications that it would not cooperate with investigations involving the report.

“That could turn out bad for the president,” Luján said. He said Congress is required to have independent oversight into the report. “There needs to be hearings.”

Heinrich agrees.

“It is now Congress’ job to conduct the oversight hearings and investigations necessary to hold President Trump and his administration accountable. Congress needs the full, unredacted Mueller report,” Heinrich said. “Robert Mueller should testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. We need more information – not less – to help the American people understand what really happened here.”

Heinrich said what members of Congress already know “is appalling.”

“President Trump and his team have engaged in a shocking pattern of lies, incompetence and obstruction. They have even lied about the special counsel’s report and what it says,” Heinrich said.

To that end, Luján and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., said U.S. Attorney General William Barr needs to be questioned about the four-page summary of the report that was released in late March. Haaland labeled the summary “really absurd.” Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday but said he would not testify before the House as scheduled today.

Udall said Barr “blatantly attempted to shield the president” and “must acknowledge Congress’ role as a coequal branch and appear before the House as requested.”

Haaland said the American people “deserve to know the truth, and they deserve to see the full report.”

But Atkeson said Democrats in Congress needed to be careful “not to show that this is all they’re about.”

“President Trump does best when he has opposition,” Atkeson said. “This could play right into his hands.”

In his criticism of the Democrats, Trump tweeted that they needed to be focused on other issues such as improving the nation’s infrastructure instead of further investigations of the Mueller report.

In her statement on the release of the report, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., said she would be concentrating on “access to health care, improving opportunities in our rural communities, and maintaining a vibrant border.”

But she also said Congress and the public need the opportunity to fully review the report.

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